07/12/09 12:57 AM ET
Santana shuts down Reds to lift Mets
Offense strikes early behind Francoeur to give ace cushion
By Marty Noble / MLB.com
In beating the Reds, 4-0, on Saturday night, the Mets followed the blueprint that every team embraces, but few teams make their modus operandi. But it's been a while since the MO was implemented quite so nicely as it was in this victory.
It was a different kind of Saturday night special produced in this team's 86th game -- the kind that reminds the Mets of what it was like in April, when they had a full complement of talent, and hints at what it could be again if and when the disabled list returns the players it has kidnapped.
This one was brought to you by the new man and the man: Jeff Francoeur provided two RBIs and two hits in his debut with the Mets, and Johan Santana provided seven scoreless innings in what he hopes is the beginning of a characteristically strong second half. Moreover, Francisco Rodriguez pitched the ninth inning -- a non-save situation -- and produced the final zero. It might not have been April in New York. But it was April in the Citi.
"That's the way every team hopes to do it," David Wright said. "We had that kind of thing going for a while early in the season."
The first inning has become a black hole for the Mets' offense since Jose Reyes was assigned to the disabled list. He has missed 46 games now. And when Francoeur's first contact as a member of the Mets produced a prosperously-placed bloop single, the team had only its 17th and 18th first-inning runs in Reyes' absence. The 19th would follow on a single by Omir Santos. The team had scored 39 runs in 40 first innings before Reyes went down.
"It's nice to see that again," said Santana, who has been undermined by lack of support in four of his 18 starts. "It fires everybody up."
The fire hardly approached the inferno level. But four was more runs than they had scored in six of their previous seven games, each a loss. They still are without a home run, but they abandoned the singles-only MO that had been a part of their being shut out three times in the preceding five games. Angel Pagan, batting leadoff again, tripled in the second inning, the only extra-base hit among the Mets' 11 hits.
Pagan also stole two bases, putting an end to an embarrassing sequence. The Mets had gone without a home run or a steal for seven games. Now the no-home run streak is at 75 innings. But who's counting?
Pagan, who also singled in the first inning, had made his first contribution running down a fly ball hit by Ramon Hernandez with two runners on base at the center-field wall for Santana's third out in the first.
"I didn't want him to hit it there, but when [Pagan] caught it, it got everyone excited," Santana said.
Given that early reprieve, Santana laid the foundation for the Mets' sixth shutout by allowing a walk, three singles and two doubles in his seven innings. He struck out five. He has been the starter in three of the six shutouts -- pitching seven innings each time -- and in six of Mets' 10 most recent shutouts. Santana (10-7) became the fourth pitcher in the National League with at least 10 victories by beating the Reds for the second time this season. He had lost four of his previous five starts, but pitched effectively, if unsuccessfully, in his most recent outing on Sunday against the Phillies. The victory was the 119th of his career, putting his total one beyond that of countryman Freddy Garcia. No Venezuelan-born pitcher has won as many games Santana.
"I'm very proud of that," Santana said. "But there's more to do."
His preference is to put his total at a number no one will exceed.
With all that Pagan and Santana contributed, some of Francoeur's debut was a tad overshadowed. And even before the new man stepped on the field, his newness got him -- his name was misspelled "Francouer" in a posted lineup.
"[It] happens all the time," he said. "No problem."
He's happy with the name on the front of his uniform and with the one on the back, regardless of spelling.
"It's good. ... A new face is good," Santana said. "He's excited to be here, and I know Angel was excited to be back. I think that gets to other guys. It's good."
"What's good," Brian Schneider said, "is that he drove in two runs. That's the most important thing. It's nice to have a right fielder drive in runs."
Schneider and Ryan Church, the medium of exchange that brought Francoeur from the Braves, are best friends -- still.
"But I'm going to text him, and that's what I'm going to tell him," Schneider said. "'It's nice to have a right fielder drive in runs.'"
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.